The EU has largely lost its leverage over domestic developments in Turkey. Meanwhile, the challenges to Turkey’s democratic consolidation – such as the Kurdish issue – have multiplied.
EU member states are united in their support for a democratic Turkey where human and minority rights are guaranteed and the rule of law is entrenched. But the deadlocked membership talks also mean that the EU has all but lost its leverage over Turkey’s domestic affairs in recent years. The EU was absent from the pre-election campaign leading up to the parliamentary vote in June. Debates focused on issues such as the new constitution, Kurdish rights, and social and economic conditions. Even Kurdish nationalists, traditionally one of the most pro-EU constituencies, have lost interest as they see the EU conditionality on minority rights as too timid to help them achieve their demands for cultural and political autonomy. The euro crisis and the robust growth in Turkey itself has also driven down the EU’s stock. Commentators argue that the EU is no longer needed to anchor and guide Turkish democracy. In September, Turkey’s new parliament passed progressive legislation on the property of non-Muslim foundations. Though welcomed by the European Commission, such changes were initiated by the ruling AKP, not requested by Brussels.
Yet there are serious concerns about Turkey’s democratic performance: the concentration of power within the hands of the AKP, media and internet freedom, and the multiplying arrests of prominent journalists and academics, often on dubious charges. The Kurdish issue tops the list. The tense election campaign and escalating nationalism, both within government and the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), led to the PKK renouncing the ceasefire, new rounds of hostilities between the security forces and guerrillas in south-eastern provinces, and Turkish attacks against separatists’ bases in northern Iraq. Although BDP deputies terminated their boycott of parliament in September and joined the committee tasked with drafting the new constitution, the prospects for a political settlement are remote. At the end of December, the Turkish government expressed regret after air strikes killed 35 Kurdish youths who had been mistaken for PKK fighters.